York-born Dominic McGregor has been hired by the Government to help their social media push a year after he left the $200m global agency, Social Chain, e co-founded at just 21. So just who is Dominic McGregor and how did he become one of the UK’s most promising entrepreneurs at such a young age?
WHEN Dominic McGregor ran out of toilet paper as a student, he chose to tweet about it rather than simply restock.
That quirky post was the start of a chain of Twitter musings documenting his life as a university student which attracted tens of thousands of followers.
The York-born and bred entrepreneur went on to co-found the social media publishing and marketing agency, Social Chain, at the age of 21 in 2014, and embarked on a whirlwind journey of successes and celebrations.
Social Chain, one of Europe’s fastest-growing agencies of its kind, grew to become a $200m turnover global social media, marketing and e-commerce operation with 750 staff around the world, working with brands like Amazon, Coca Cola and Apple.
Dominic, the company’s COO, and his co-founder Steven Bartlett, CEO, left the business last year after it became a publicly-listed company on the Dusseldorf Stock Exchange in 2019.
Social Chain co-founder Steven Bartlett has since published a book Happy Sexy Millionaire, and become an investor on Dragons’ Den. Picture: Steven Bartlett/PA
The business had a reach of more than two billion views per month by the time they left.
Now 28, the entrepreneur, who was born and raised in Clifton Moor, York, is embarking on a new chapter after Social Chain.
He has just announced his new appointment as an advisor to the Cabinet Office on their social media use in a bid to reach niche audiences, including small businesses and young people.
His co-founder Steven, who is also 28, recently became the youngest ever investor on BBC’s long-running Dragons’ Den show.
Reflecting on Social Chain’s early days Dominic, who remains on the board, recalls talking to businesses about why they should be on social media at a time when it was relatively undervalued and untapped.
“That feels crazy now,” says Dominic, who attended Bootham School in York before Edinburgh University.
“We were telling businesses that’s what young people were using and where brands should be in the future. Fortunately, we got the opportunity to work with really big brands in the UK and global players, helping them to navigate social media.
“As we grew as a business, we offered more services within the social media world, working with influencers, creating content, doing paid social campaigns, marketing.
“We became one of the biggest players in the social media space. We opened offices in Germany and the United States and continued to grow the business.
“We took investment in, we raised a significant amount of money from a group in Germany. We came together and realised that the vision for the business had to be us, utilising our audiences to grow our own revenue streams rather than just working as an agency.
“We developed our own products, brands, our own events. Over the last three years we grew into what is Social Chain today.
“In that process we took Social Chain public in the German market. We were trading on the German Stock Exchange in Dusseldorf. The value of the company got to £250m.
“We were working across agency and client work, our own brands and we hosted a large number of events across the UK, US and Germany, all geared towards social media and using social media influencers.
“When I look back no two days were that different but, in hindsight, it was an incredible journey.
“It took us five years to get the business public. That feels an entire whirlwind. When you look at the early days of when we started, we were a bunch of kids really.
“The average age of the company was 21 in 2015 to a company which is working with the world’s biggest clients.”
At university, Dominic studied sports science, following on from a sport-filled childhood in York when he played football for Rawcliffe as well as York and District Schoolboys.
“I wanted to work in sport. This [social media] was not in the picture. I wasn’t the kid in the playground selling sweets. The key is being open to opportunities and don’t have a closed mind. If you do that you’re likely to end up doing something you enjoy.”
Dominic’s previous jobs ranged from his first role at Play Football in Clifton, York, and his last post at AMT Coffee Shop at York Railway Station before co-founding Social Chain.
He said it had felt right to move on from the company last year when they achieved their goal of going public.
Dominic with his brother and parents in York’s Museum Gardens. Picture: Dominic McGregor
Since leaving, he has got a Cockapoo and has taken time out to enjoy family life while sharing advice with small businesses ‘and giving back’.
Dominic said that, moving forward, he would like to help others, from those in the early stages of business to people with mental health of alcohol abuse issues.
As part of that, he has joined Praetura Ventures, the venture capital investor, as an operational partner, using his experience to support the entrepreneurs it backs.
Praetura invests in early-stage, high-growth businesses across the North and in Yorkshire, and has invested £20m in 21 businesses since 2019.
The firm has recently invested in Maxwellia, a pioneering drug company poised to transform the UK’s self-care market, alongside its investments in Leeds-based RapidSpike, tech for good platforms Transreport and Enthuse, and communications platform PixelMax.
Dominic is also a passionate advocate for young people’s mental health and sobriety.
He explained that Social Chain’s rapid growth and frequent successes had resulted in one celebratory drink after another until he realised it had to stop.
“I went sober more than four and a half years ago,” said Dominic.
“In the early days we celebrated and alcohol became that go-to celebration aspect.
“The pressure that came with being a young founder, the investment raised – all that compounded to me turning those celebrations into ultimately medicating a little bit.
“I found myself having that bottle of wine a night by myself. That bottle turned into two bottles, then binge on the weekends.
“At the time I wasn’t aware I had a mental health problem.
“It was through the drinking and through talking to a therapist and having therapy that I realised ‘ok, I have a mental health issue which is causing me to drink, so if I stop drinking I can start dealing with the mental health issue’.”
Looking back on Social Chain’s rapid growth, and the impact on his personal life, he said: “I don’t regret it one bit. I understand I had to go through it. It made me a much better person.
“I had trouble with family during dark times when I was in a bad place, but thankfully nothing was unrepairable.
“I have a much stronger relationship with them now because of it than I ever would have without going through it.
“It is more difficult for the people around you than for you. Unless you are willing to accept their support, you actually reject it and are much more negative towards them.
“I am thankful they managed to support me through it and were there for me when I needed them.”
He added: “My sobriety is really important to me but also educating people on that and the importance of how you can live a better life through abstinence. I want to be able to support people on their own personal development and growth.”